Since it’s successful Indigogo campaign back in 2014 pi-top has come a long way. The UK based company is still at it, having announced the second generation of the pi-top. The lime-green machine is built with teaching and tinkering in mind. It uses the Raspberry Pi 3 board as its brains, so, many Pi 3 accessories are compatible. To facilitate tinkering and learning, the entire keyboard slides off. This gives you access to the Pi 3 running the machine, and rails where additional boards can be mounted. This design differs from the first model, which had a removable cover to access the internals . This caused the keyboard on the first version to be smaller. the slide-off keyboard in the second version alleviates that problem.
Since the Pi-Top is based on the Raspberry Pi 3 you get the same specs there. It will have the Quad-Core Arm Cortex processor at 1.2ghz. You will also get all of the ports, including the 40-pin GPIO. It will also be network capable through Wi-Fi and LAN. The Pi 3 will have plenty of power for most projects. What pi-top have done is added a 14-inch FHD display, and a 6-8 hour battery. All packed into a neat laptop shell, with room left over for projects.
The Software (Pi-top OS)
The real advantage to the pi-top package is in it’s software. The operating system based, based on Raspbian, the Raspberry Pi OS. It includes a full suite of software that facilitates not only tinkering, but could build a full project. This includes an IDE, 3D printing software, and much more. There is a game called ceedUniverse where players use coding knowledge to unlock puzzles. In addition to the ceedUniverse game there is also a free version of Minecraft, which can be edited in python.One fantastic feature for educators that is included is the ability to manage lesson plans and track progress.
The pi-top seems like a solid product. Clearly the intended demographic here is younger learners. However, almost anybody could find use for it. The $284 (319 with PI 3 included) price-tag, may seem a bit steep for some. You could cobble something together much cheaper, and the pi-top OS is freely downloadable. But that isn’t really the point here. I like what the this product brings to the table. It makes learning and tinkering more convenient. In reality it isn’t that expensive either. I hope products like this will continue to open doors for young learners to get into computer science and electronics.